Andover resident Gary Lucas explains the benefits of exercise whilst having mental health issues – and how it has helped him.
As mental health and addiction has been a part of my life for some years now I thought I would write a small article about the benefits I have gained from exercising whilst having a mental health illness. I write this as a resident of Andover for over 30 years and a user of the mental health services in Andover such as the CMHT and Mind.
The benefits of exercise for the physical parts of your body is widely known. A doctor can even prescribe a course in the gym. But the benefits of exercise on the mind may not be known so widely. I can say from experience that it helps the mind as much, if not more, than it helps the body. Exercising, even at a slow and moderate pace can have such great results on the mind. It can lift your mood, release aggression and pent up anger and make you generally feel good all round.
With some mental health illnesses such as depression, mood swings and low energy levels can make day to day life incredibly difficult. After all depression is more commonly known as “The black dog” (this phrase has puzzled me as dogs, and animals in general are quite therapeutic) Now, I’m not saying that exercise is all the help someone will need. What I am saying is that exercise can be a part of a daily or even a weekly routine that helps to fight mental health symptoms.
Anxiety often goes hand in hand with depression. Anxiety can make it hard to go out of doors and do some things other people consider easy. For me anxiety was a huge thing to try and battle. When every fibre of your being is telling you not to go out because of danger and your flight or fight response is working overtime it’s very difficult to overcome. This is why I would advocate doing regular exercise, to try and keep these symptoms at bay.
When I joined a gym earlier this year I was in a dark place. I was mentally almost spent, emotionally very fragile and physically I was well over my healthy weight range. So to say I was very conscientious of my size and low confidence was an understatement. The biggest and most terrifying step I took this year was to join up. I was so nervous and worried that I wouldn’t fit in due to me being overweight and that other gym goers would somehow mock me. This really couldn’t have been further from the truth. After all we are there for similar reasons. Some to lose weight, some to gain muscle, some to recover from injury. Me, I was there to lose weight to help my arthritis so I could be more mobile and moreover to help my mental health.
As I said depression and other illnesses such as Bipolar, Schizophrenia and other diagnosis can be, and often are, a life-long uphill battle with the wind and rain seemingly against you. Of course the sun does come out for us from time to time. My advice when the sun comes out is to just enjoy it. Don’t over think it. Just be in the moment. Mindfulness is a great tool to use. Especially in the gym. Just be in the gym working out and everything will be put out of your mind, if only for an hour or so. I tend to think of it as a break from my mental health, and more importantly a tool to keep it at bay. (Mindfulness is a bigger subject than I could cover now)
Pretty much every person who works out will see the difference in their body shape. Whether it be to lose weight or gain weight in the form of muscle tone. But for me the gains I am more interested in are more mental. After all mental health cannot be seen the same way as if you had broke your arm or leg. Mental fitness and well-being really are part of the key to a happy life.
You may or may not already know this but 1 in 4 people will have, or know someone that has a mental health condition. There are many people out there but most don’t want to talk about it as they see the stigma that is still sadly attached to mental health. Some see it as a weakness or they try to deny they need help to recover from an episode of their illness. Attitudes are changing I’m happy to say but there is still a way to go.
Now, dear reader, I have deliberately not mentioned the name of the gym so as not to make this letter seem like an advert. But I have to give credit where it is due. The gym I chose, and the gym I am talking about is Fevo Gym run by Andre and the team that include Danni Bannan and Natasha Rogers.
These really are the top guys around for things like fitness, injury recovery, losing or gaining weight and just a general good friendly chat while working out. They catered to my specialist needs when it come to my arthritis and ability to exercise. They help you reach your goals without piling on the pressure or pushing you to hard. I also have to mention how great the guys are that train there.
The gym and its patrons really are all there to help each other and better themselves. Not one person thinks they are better than anybody else. I thought I was going to need a gym buddy to go with me but I never did. The guys there were so welcoming that I never needed one.
Well I shall close now and thank you for taking the time to read this. I really do wish you a happy and healthy (both physically and mentally) 2016.
Mr G Lucas.